Opinion: Get the police out of Ferguson

Nobody talks much about the 3rd Amendment. Everyone knows the 1st. There’s entirely too much hubbub about the 2nd. Most people know there used to be a 4th and a 5th. But what about the 3rd ?

For any non-constitutional scholars or anyone who’s forgotten middle school civics, the 3rd Amendment reads: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Most casual observers don’t consider the statement especially relevant. There are no soldiers stationed in America against anyone’s consent. Or are there?

Look closer at Ferguson, Missouri. It resembles a war zone more closely than perhaps any U.S. city has in 150 years. Police and the population are locked in a tense standoff following the August 9 murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Much speculation has been cast on the details of the grisly death, in which Brown took six bullets to his person – but of perhaps greater interest is what’s happened in the aftermath.

Police forces fire tear gas during a protest. (Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) - via Vox.

Police forces fire tear gas during a protest. (Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) – via Vox.

The news media jumped along for the ride when the Ferguson Police Department tried slandering the man the world accused their officer of killing. Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, stayed mostly mum except to call police of his own on Ferguson by sending in the National Guard. And on nearly every night since the murder took place, Ferguson residents have stood their ground against an encroaching paramilitary police force, the same one which just took a friend and a child from their community.

In any other part of the world, this would qualify as a serious instance of state terrorism. There’d be talk of intervening if it happened in Panama. The cops on the streets of Ferguson are storm troopers, there to instill fear and remind a community that its place is to be silent and listen to authority. Commentators have echoed that opinion. And beyond a few mild reproofs, politicians all just seem to be playing the waiting game. Can police outlast Ferguson’s residents? Will Ferguson grow tired of protesting, go back inside, and let the whole world forget about this whole thing?

They haven’t yet, and we should hope they never do.

What’s happening in Ferguson directly recalls the 3rd Amendment. It reminds one of revolutionary times, when the king’s men stood in the streets and spent their days intimidating commoners. The founders recognized this as a severe enough threat to address it in the third entry in the Bill of Rights. Sadly, due to an out-of-control industrial arms race, Ferguson’s residents aren’t staring down musket barrels – their streets are patrolled by the same machinery that killed a million Iraqis and Afghanis and made refugees of many millions more.

That’s not likely to happen here, but the reality that it could has never been more boastfully waved in Americans’ faces than in Ferguson. Night after night, residents stand up to it. They do so peacefully. No one is calling for the head of Darren Wilson – all they want is to see him stand up to the same criminal justice system they would were it any of them on the trigger end of a gun. Surely this is well within a community’s rights.

No reasonable person could say this looks like democracy. Via Yahoo! News.

No reasonable person could say this looks like democracy. Via Yahoo! News.

Few in power are giving any real consideration to the grievances being expressed by the citizens of Ferguson. But they continue to demand them every single night, bravely in the face of nonstop threats, harassment, gun-pointing, tear gassing, and armored vehicles. If this were a functioning democracy, the police would be off their streets. No doubt it’s what the residents of Ferguson want, although it’s never been picked up on. The police, who are not at all behaving like members of the community, should get out. Their role is not to bend citizens to state power through violence and force; no such entity can exist in a free society.

The 10th Amendment is a standard conservative favorite – it gives states the right to decide for themselves matters considered too insignificant for the federal government (like slavery, for instance, or reproductive rights). For conservatives who treasure this amendment, community governing ought to be a no-brainer. What could possibly be more vital to the thriving of a population than having the right to determine how it’s policed? The unwanted imposition of the law’s strongest arm in a community bound together with crystal-clear demands is the surest sign that any respect political leaders once had for US democracy is gone.

But mass public action is still the best course. Solidarity is the only thing capable of changing the way Ferguson is policed. Improvements will never be gifted from above. And if they do formulate a demand and successfully eject the police, looting and rioting will not run amok. These are not the natural ways of human society, but rather are agitated into being. Without police – at least, without the ridiculous armored patrol units that have turned Ferguson into a dystopian warzone – tensions will ease, enabling the community to come together and make their case to the city council, the governor, or whoever they need to. And any demand short of committing an injustice of their own, they should be granted – or rather, they should take. That is how democracy functions.

Ancestors of Ferguson’s protestors suffered a long history of fighting for every little inch. But democracy remains the only way to achieve social progress – it’s why power displays such open hostility to it. Rights have got to be fought for, in unions, in town halls, in interest groups, and in community solidarity like we’re seeing in Ferguson. Their model should give us pride. You never know when the same battle might come to your town. We should all set a precedent for citizen victory now by supporting the residents of Ferguson in their collective crusade for justice.

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